THE appearance of God to mortals seems always to have been in brightness and great glory, whether He was angry and in displeasure, or benign and kind. These appearances are often mentioned in Scripture. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, it is said 'The Lord descended upon it in Fire' (Exod. xix. 18). And when Moses repeats the history of this to the children of Israel, he says 'The Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the Fire' (Deut. iv. 12). So it was when the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush: 'The bush burned with Fire, and the bush was not consumed' (Exod. iii. 3). The appearances of the Angel of God’s presence, or that Divine Person who represented God; were always in brightness; or, in other words, the Shechinah was always surrounded with glory. This seems to have given occasion to those of old to imagine fire to be what God dwelt in.
'Ipse' (Darius) 'solem Mithren, sacrumque et æternum invocans IGNEM, ut illis dignam vetere gloria majoremque monumentis fortitudinem inspirarent.'--Q. Curtius, l. iv. c. 13.
Whether it was that any fire preceded from God, and burnt up the oblation in the first sacrifices, as some ingenious men have conjectured, we know not. It is certain that in after ages this was the case. We are sure that a fire from the Lord consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering of Aaron (Lev. ix. 24); and so it did
the sacrifice of Gideon, 'both the flesh and the unleavened cakes' (Judg. vi. 21). When David 'built an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and called upon the Lord, He answered him from heaven by Fire, upon the altar of burnt-offerings' (1 Chron. xxi. 26). The same thing happened at the dedication of Solomon's temple: 'The fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house' (2 Chron. vii. 1). And much about a hundred years afterwards, when Elijah made that extraordinary sacrifice in proof that Baal was no god, 'The Fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench' (1 Kings xviii. 38). And if we go back long before the times of Moses, as early as Abraham's days, we meet with an instance of the same sort: 'It came to pass that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, that passed between these pieces' (Gen. xv. 17).
The first appearance of God, then, being in glory--or, which is the same thing, in light or fire--and He showing His acceptance of sacrifices in so many instances, by consuming them with fire, hence it was that the Eastern people, and particularly the Persians, fell into the worship of fire itself, or rather they conceived fire to be the symbol of God’s presence-, and they worshipped God in, or by, fire. From the Assyrians, or Chaldæans, or Persians, this worship was propagated southwards among the Egyptians, and westward among the Greeks; and by them it was brought into Italy. The Greeks were wont to meet together to worship in their Prytaneia, and there they consulted for the public good; and there was a. constant fire kept upon the altar, which was dignified
by the name of Vesta, by some. The fire itself was properly Vesta; and so Ovid:
The Prytaneia were the atria of the temples, wherein a fire was kept that was never suffered to go. out. On the change in architectural forms from the pyramidal (or the horizontal) to the obeliscar (or the upright, or vertical), the flames were transferred from the altars, or cubes, to the summits of the typical uprights, or towers; or to the tops of the candles, such as we see them used now in Catholic worship, and which are called 'tapers', from their tapering or pyramidal form, and which, wherever they are seen or raised, are supposed always to indicate the divine presence or influence. This, through the symbolism that there is in the living light, which is the last exalted show of fluent or of inflamed brilliant matter, passing off beyond into the unknown and unseen world of celestial light (or occult fire), to which all the forms of things tend, and in which even idea itself passes from recognition as meaning, and evolves--spiring, as all flame does, to escape and to wing away.
Vesta, or the fire, was worshipped in circular temples, which were the images or the miniatures, of the 'temple' of the world, with its dome, or cope, of stars. It was in the atria of the temples, and in the presence of, and before the above-mentioned lights, that the forms of ceremonial worship .were always observed. It is certain that Vesta was worshipped at Troy; and Æneas brought her into Italy
[paragraph continues] Numa settled an order of Virgin Priestesses, whose
business and care it was constantly to maintain the holy fire. And long before Numa's days, we find it not only customary, but honourable, among the Albans to appoint the best-born virgins to be priestesses of Vesta, and to keep up the constant, unextinguished fire.
When Virgil speaks (Æneid iv. 200) of Iarbas, in Africa, as building a hundred temples and a hundred altars, he says:
that he had 'consecrated a fire that never went out'. And he calls these temples and these lights, or this fire, the 'perpetual watches', or 'watch-lights', or proof of the presence, of the gods. By which expressions he means, that places and things were constantly protected, and solemnized where such lights burned, and that the celestials, or angel-defenders, 'camped', as it were, and were sure to be met with thickly, where these flames upon the altars, and these torches or lights about the temples, invited them and were studiously and incessantly maintained.
Thus the custom seems to have been general from the earliest antiquity to maintain a constant fire, as conceiving the gods present there. And this was not only the opinion of the inhabitants in Judæa, but it extended all over Persia, Greece, Italy, Egypt, and most other nations of the world.
Porphyry imagined that the 'reason why the most ancient mortals kept up a constant, ever-burning fire in honour of the immortal Gods, was because Fire was most like the Gods. He says that the ancients kept an unextinguished fire in their temples to the Gods, because it was most like them. Fire was not like the Gods, but it was what they appeared in to
mortals. And so the true God always appeared in brightness and glory, yet no one would say that brightness was most like the true God, but was most like the Shechinah, in which God appeared. And hence the custom arose of keeping up an unextinguished fire in the ancient temples.
Vesta is properly an Oriental word, derived from the Hebrew אש, As--'Fire'. Thence the word Astarte, in the Phœnician dialect. The signification of the term is the same as the πῦρ ἄσβεστον, the ignis æternus, the perpetual fire itself. They that worshipped either Vesta or Vulcan, or the master-power of nature which is known under those names, were properly Fire-worshippers.
God, then, being wont to appear in Fire, and being conceived to dwell in Fire, the notion spread universally, and was universally admitted. First, then, it was not at all out of the way to think of engaging in friendship with God by the same means as they contracted friendship with one another. And since they to whom God appeared saw Him appear in Fire, and they acquainted others with such His appearances, He was conceived to dwell in Fire. By degrees, therefore, the world came to be over-curious in the fire that was constantly to be kept up, and in things to be sacrificed; and they proceeded from one step to another, till at length they filled up the measure of their aberration, which was in reality instigated by their zeal, and by their intense desire to mitigate the displeasure of their divinities--for religion was much more intense as a feeling in early days--by passing into dreadful ceremonies in regard to this fire, which they reverenced as the last possible physical form of divinity, not only in its grandeur and power, but also in its purity. It arose from this view that human sacrifices came to be offered to the deities in many
parts of the world, particularly in Phœnicia, and in the colonies derived from thence into Africa and other places. In the intensity of their minds, children were sacrificed by their parents, as being the, best and dearest oblation that could be made, and the strongest arguments that nothing ought to. be withheld from God. This was expiation for that sad result, the consequence of the original curse, issuing from the fatal curiosity concerning the bitter fruit of that forbidden 'Tree',
according to Milton. That peculiar natural sense of shame in all its forms lesser and larger, and with all the references inseparably allied to propagation in all its multitudinous cunning (so to speak), wherever the condemned material tissues reach, puzzled the thoughtful ancients as to its meaning. This they considered the convicted 'Adversary', or Lucifer, 'Lord of light'--that is, material Light', 'Eldest Son of the Morning'. Morning, indeed! dawning with its light from behind that forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What is this shame, urged the philosophers, this reddening, however good and beautiful, and especially the ornament of the young and inexperienced and of children, who are newest from the real, glowing countenance of Deity, with the bloom of the first angelic word scarcely yet fading from off their cherub faces, gradually darkening and hardening in the degradation and iniquity of being here as presences in this world, although the most glorious amidst the forms of flesh? What is this shame, which is the characteristic singly of human creatures? All other creatures are sinless in
this respect, and know not the feeling of that--correctly looked at--strange thing which men call 'shame', something which is not right that the sun even should see, and therefore stirring the blood, and, reddening the face, and confusing the speech, and causing man to hang down his head, and to hide himself, as if guilty of something: even as our guilty first parents, having lost the unconsciousness of their child-like, innocent first state--that of sinless virginity--hid themselves and shunned their own light in the umbrage of Paradise, all at once convicted to the certainty that they must hide, because they were exposed, and that they had themselves broken that original intention regarding them.
'Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven'.
That is, the innocent children should come up for salvation, who, though suffering under the mortal liability incurred by all flesh in that first sin (and incident in the first fall, which has empoisoned and cursed all nature), are yet free by the nature of their ungrown possibility, and from their unconsciousness of it. They know not the shame of the condition adult, and therefore they bear not the badge of men, and are not of this world really, but of another world.
To recur for a moment to the theory of human sacrifices which once largely prevailed. Interwoven inseparably with the forms of architecture from the earliest times, proof of which we see constantly in classical buildings particularly, and in the Italian modifications displayed in the cities of Europe, was the habit of exposing as talismans the members (and particularly the heads) of human sacrifices. This is observable in the innumerable masks (or heads full-faced) placed on the keystones of arches or portals. They are either deified mortals or demigods. Some-
times, but very rarely (because it is, a sinister palladium),the head of Medusa is seen. Exposure of the heads of criminals on town-gates, over bridges, or over arches, follows the same idea, as ranging in the list of protecting, protesting, or appealing Palladia, which are supposed to possess the same objurgating or propitiating power as the wild, winged creatures--children of the air--affixed in penitential, magic brand or exposure on the doors of barns, or on the outside of rustic buildings. All this is ceremonial sacrifice, addressed to the harmful gods, and meant occultly and entreatingly for the eyes of the observant, but invisible, wandering angels, who move through the world--threading unseen the ways of men, and unwitted of by them, and most abundant and most active there where the mother of all of them is in the ascendant with her influences; or when Night is abroad, throned in her cope of stars--letters, from their first judiciary arrangement in the heavens, spelling out continually new astrological combinations. For Astrology. was the mother, as she was the precursor, of Astronomy, and was once a power; into whatever mean roads the exercise of the art of her servants has strayed now, in unworthy and indign divination, and in the base proffer of supposed Gipsy arts--ministration become ridiculous (or made so), which was once mighty and sublime.
The pyramidal or triangular form which Fire assumes in its ascent to heaven is in the monolithic typology used to signify the great generative power. We have only to look at Stonehenge, Ellora, the Babel-towers of Central America, the gigantic ruins scattered all over Tartary and India, to see how gloriously they symbolized the majesty of the Supreme. To these uprights, disks, or lithoi, of the old world, including the Bethel, or Jacob's Pillar, or Pillow, raised in the
Plain of 'Luz', we will add, as the commemorative or reminding shape of the fire, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Millenarius, Gnomon, Mete-Stone, or Mark, called 'London Stone', all Crosses raised at the junction of four roads, all Market-Crosses, the Round Towers of Ireland, and, in all the changeful aspects of their genealogy, all spires and towers, in their grand hieroglyphic proclamation, all over the world. All these are Phalli, and express a sublime meaning.
(♈) Aries, (♉) Taurus, (♊) Gemini, (♋) Cancer, (♌) Leo, (♍) Virgo, are the first six 'Signs'; and they collectively (in their annual succession) form 'the Macrocosmos' of the Cabalists. Then succeeds the 'turning-point', 'balances', or 'nave' (navel), of the astronomical wheel, represented by the sign 'Libra' (♎), which, be it remembered, was added by the imaginative (and therefore practically inventive) Greeks. The foregoing, up to 'Libra', represent the 'ascending signs', or six of the spokes, so to speak, of the annual zodiacal wheel, circling to the zenith or vertex. The last six 'Signs' of the zodiac are called 'descending signs', and they are the sinister, autumnal, or changing, in reverse, monthly spaces, each of thirty degrees, and again comprising six radii of this celestial wheel, or this 'Ezekiel's Wheel'. The turning-point is 'Virgo-Scorpio', which, until separated in the mythical interruption from without at the 'junction-point' between ascent and descent, were the same 'single sign'. The latter half (or left wing of this grand zodiacal 'army', or 'host of heaven', drawn up in battle array, and headed--as, by a figure, we shall choose to say--by the 'Archangel Michael', or the Sun, at the centre, or in the 'champion' or 'conquering point') is called by the Cabalists--and therefore by the Rosicrucians--the abstract 'Microcosmos'--in which 'Microcosm', or 'Little World',
in opposition to the 'Macrocosm', or 'Great World', is to be found 'Man', as produced in it from the operations from above, and to be saved in the 'Great Sacrifice' (Crucifixion-Act), the phenomena of the being (Man) taking place 'in the mythic return. of the world'. All this is incomprehensible, except in the strange mysticism of the Gnostics and the Cabalists; and the whole theory requires a key of explanation to render it intelligible; which key is only darkly referred to as possible, but refused absolutely, by these extraordinary men, as not permissible to be disclosed. As they, however, were very fond of diagrams and mystic figures, of which they left many in those rarities (mostly ill-executed, but each wonderfully suggestive) called Gnostic gems ',we will supply a seeming elucidation of this their astrological assumption of 'what was earliest'; for which see the succeeding figure.
(♎) Libra (the Balances) leads again off as the 'hinge-point,' introducing the six winter signs, which are: (♎) Libra again, (♏) Scorpio, (♐) Sagittarius, (♑) Capricornus, (♒) Aquarius, and (♓) Pisces.
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Fig. 12 (A) 'Ezekiel's Wheel'
Turning-point--Libra. (The sign 'Libra' was added by the Greeks.)
The first six signs, or ascending signs, are represented
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by the celestial perpendicular, or descending ray, as thus: (Fig. 13).
The last six signs, or descending signs, are 'represented by the terrestrial ground-line, or horizontal, or 'equatorial' (symbol or sigma), as thus: (Fig. 14).
The union of these (at the intersection of these rays) at the junction-point, or middle point, forms the 'Cross', as thus: (Fig 15-19).
In figure C, the union of fig. 16 and fig. 17 forms the cross. Fig. 18 is the mundane circle. Fig. 19 is the astronomical cross upon the mundane circle. The union of fig. 18, fig. 17, and fig. 16, in this respective order, gives the crux-ansata, so continual in all the Egyptian sculptures, which mark or sign is also the symbol of the Planet Venus, as below (Fig. 20, 21).
Their origin is thus traced clearly to the same original meanings, which reappear .under all sorts of disguises, and are varied in innumerable ingenious ways, in all
the mythologies--incessantly disclosing, and inviting, and as continually evading and escaping discovery. This abstruse mark particularly abounds in the Egyptian temples, where every object and every figure presents it. Its real meaning is, however, intended to be buried in profound darkness.
In regard to the mysteries implied in the Christian Cross, the schismatics contended (1st) 'that Christ, alive upon the cross, humbled Himself, usque ad inferni tremenda tormenta, even unto the dreadful torments of hell'. (Paget's Catech. Latin.) (2nd) 'Endured for a time those torments, qualis reprobi in æternum sensuri sunt, which the reprobates shall everlastingly suffer in hell'. (Pisc. in Luc. xii. 10.) 'Even despaired of God’s mercy, finding God, at this time, Non patrem sed tyrannum, not a Father, but a Tyrant: and overcame despair by despair; death by death; hell by hell; and Satan by Satan' (Ferus in Matth. 27): 'suffered actually all the torments of hell for our redemption, and descended into the heaviest that hell could yield; endured the torments of hell, the second death, abjection from God, and' was made a curse; that is, had the bitter anguish of God’s wrath in his soul and body, which is the fire that shall never be quenched'.--Faith and Doctrine (Thomas Rogers), London, 1629. Jacob Böhmen produces some of these most stringent and dark shades in his profound mysticism--although essentially Christian.
It may be here distinctly mentioned that it is a mistake to suppose any of the Egyptian hieroglyphics tell the story of that most profound and most ancient religion. There are various series of hieroglyphics, more or less reserved, but the real beliefs of the Egyptian Priest were never (indeed, they dared not so have been hazarded in sigma, or writing, or hieroglyphic of any kind--being forbidden
to be spoken, still more written. Consequently all supposed readings of hieroglyphics are guesswork only--implying earnest and plausible but mistaken effort alone.